Thursday, November 23, 2017

How to Stay in Fighting Form Through the Winter

"The first thing in the morning is drill, then drill, then drill again. Then drill, drill, a little more drill. Then drill, and lastly drill. Between drills, we drill, and sometimes stop to eat a little and have roll-call." ~Oliver Norton, 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry

During the Civil War, infantry tactics of the Napoleonic era dictated that the soldiers spent close to half the day drilling when they were in camp. Basically, the officers drilled the men until their arms were about ready to fall off. And then they stopped briefly to eat or for an assembly, and then started to drill again.  The idea was to instill in the men a 'muscle memory' of the required movements, so they could obey orders even when half asleep from exhaustion or in the heat of battle. They were supposed to act instantly as one, without even any conscious thought.

As reenactors who only do this as a weekend hobby for about three to four months out of the year, and only get to do a well-organized Battalion Drill perhaps once or twice a year, of course it is rather easy to fall out of shape. The months spent cooped up indoors without much physical activity to do can leave us rather... well, soft. 

If you're looking for a way to keep your muscles toned for battle during the long winter indoors, (and you're like me and don't have gym equipment or can't afford a gym membership,) here are three exercises that an experienced reenactor showed me who had been doing Rev War since 1976. It works best with a heavy long musket, like the Springfield or the Enfield, but I've been involved in World War II more and more and I found it works just as well with my M1 Garand. It works the specific groups of muscles that we use most often when dropping to our knees after running, getting up to run, and of course aiming our rifles.

I found these exercises to be most effective, try to do them once a day. It only takes a few minutes, and yes, you will have to get out your weapon to do this:


1. Hold your rifle or musket by the barrel and the stock horizontally, and raise it straight above your head (pretend you're one of those guys holding his gun out of the water, fording a river in the jungles of Vietnam) Raise and lower it slowly like a barbell several times, then hold it up as long as you can. Then rest for a few seconds.

2. Aim your rifle or musket straight ahead, supporting it with your elbow on your hip, and crouch down on one knee, then come back up. Do this slowly 3-5 times. Rest for a few seconds. This targets the specific parts of your legs used in dropping to the ground and rising up to move.

3. Aim your rifle or musket straight ahead while standing, then pick up one foot and place it against your other knee, "like Jethro Tull playing a flute" see visual  Keep standing on one leg and try to hold your aim steady for as long as you can until your legs or your arms start trembling. This is harder than it looks, but it really works a lot of muscles at once. The longer you can stand to do it, the stronger you will get!